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Noteworthy naturalist

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Samuel Dale (1659-1739 ) Apothecary, physician and geologist

Samuel Dale was baptised on 15th August 1659 at St. Olaves’s church, Hart Street, London. He died on 6th June 1739 and was buried in the dissenters’ burial ground at Bocking. A fine engraving of 1737 by George Vertue, shows Dale with a fine full face and long natural curly hair, dressed in austere clothes and wide brimmed hat. He was a humble general medical practitioner. Although Dale was born in London he had settled in Braintree, Essex by 1680, aged 21, where he died in 1739.

Samuel Dale’s father was North Dale (born 1618), a silk weaver of Spitalfields. His mother Christian Clark. Samuel had a brother, Francis Dale. Samuel Dale was married twice, firstly to Judah, with whom he had six children. Secondly he married Sarah Finch. Both wives and five of his children predeceased him. Christian, a daughter, who was baptised on 4th November 1687, survived her parents.

On 5th May 1674 Dale was apprenticed, for eight years, to Thomas Wells, a London apothecary. Dale opened an apothecary’s shop in Braintree in 1680 and he received a licence to practise medicine on 3rd April 1682. He practised as a family doctor in Braintree for over half a century. Dale was a staunch nonconformist and founded a religious meeting house at Bocking in 1707. Samuel Dale contributed nine papers to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society including a very important account of the strata and fossils of Harwich Cliff. He published two books of outstanding merit. The first, Pharmacologia, appeared in 1693 and went through three editions. This book, written in Latin, was virtually a textbook of materia medica, pharmacology and therapeutics. The second book, The History and Antiquities of Harwich and Dovercourt, appeared in 1730 and was reissued in 1732. This book is now in print again. The appendix to this volume contains an account of the various strata of Harwich Cliff. The appendix is based on the paper he sent to the Royal Society nearly thirty years earlier. In the book the Red Crag fossils are again described and beautifully illustrated in four plates of fine engravings. He considered the origin of the fossils. The cliffs are illustrated in two plates. The book, which was based on Silas Taylor’s manuscript, included natural history notes. Samuel Dale was physician to John Ray, and his family, and they became intimate friends. Dale assisted Ray in his botanical work and was Ray’s chief helper in the completion of his History of Plants which appeared in 1704. In the preface Ray thanked “Samuel Dale, doctor and physician, my neighbour and friend at Braintree who checked synonyms, corrected errors, and supplied omissions”. Dale’s name is preserved in the gastropod Buccinum dalei (Sowerby 1824) [(Dale’s whelk]. His name is also remembered in two botanical genera Dalea (Linné) a genus of herbaceous plant and Dalea (Miller) a genus of solanaceae. Dale’s bottle-nosed whale Hyperoodon ampullatus (Forster 1770) was also named after him. Miller Christy recorded in his Birds of Essex (1898) that Dale was the first to describe the wild birds of Essex.

Dale, R 1877. Collections relating to the Name and Families of Dale. Manuscript at Society of Genealogists’ Library.

Morris, A.D. 1974. Samuel Dale (1659-1739), Physician and Geologist. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Vol. 67. pp. 4- 8.

Boulger, G.S. 2004. Samuel Dale (1659-1739). Article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. revised by Juanita Burnby.

Dales herbarium is at the Natural History Museum. The British Library has his letters to Thomas Birch, James Pettiver and Hans Sloane. The Essex Record Office has his letters to William Holman. His portrait is at Apothecaries Hall.

Dale’s will dated August 1738 showed that he possessed substantial means.

Account provided by Mr William George
page last edited on Thu Jun 21st 2018 by site user 68